Monday, October 6, 2008

Garden Thoughts October 6

Fall to an avid gardener with grass and dirt stained knees and dirty hands can be difficult to adjust to. However, fall is a great time of year to actually improve your garden. One of the first steps you should take is to apply lime to your lawn and gardens. Generally at the end of the growing season the production effort leaves a garden with a pH of 5.5 to 6.0, so we advise adding lime at a rate of about 5 pound per 100 square feet to eventually raise the pH to about 6.5 to 7.0. This higher pH level will allow your plants to receive a wider range of nutrients. Generally, we should only lime our areas one time per year. Also your garden may well not need lime every year. If you have limed for 2 to 3 consecutive years pick up a simple pH tester at Skillin's. Check out that pH. If your soil registers at about 6.5 to 7.0, do not apply lime that year.

The lime I recommend is Mira Cal by Jonathan Green—it is a calcium based lime that is better than most limes for at least two reasons: 1) Calcium is an excellent organic additive to your soil. It benefits your plants tremendously by helping to “keep free” the flow of beneficial nutrients to your plants roots. 2) Magnesium based lime can actually aid weeds as magnesium adds a natural soil compactor. Many of the plants we prefer don’t like growing in compact soils but unfavorable weeds like plantain, dandelions, crabgrass and ajuga don’t mind compact soils a bit!

It is vital to thoroughly CLEAN your yard of dead and dying plant material in the fall. Growth that “has passed on” serves as a great home for insects and disease spores. However, just don't admire those newly cleaned wide open spaces in your garden. Get to work! Fall is a great time for soil preparation! Get some Plant Booster Plus by Organica or Plant Tone by Espoma worked into the soil. As I often write, these fertilizers are the best and most long-term way to bring needed nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium to your soil.

Then lay some compost as a top dressing in those open spaces and around your plants. If you have no compost, my favorite bagged compost for this job is Fundy Mix by Coast of Maine. (Check this link for Skillin’s own Crystal Rose Kovalick tell about her experience with Coast of Maine Fundy Blend:

Fundy Blend is an excellent product to lay around plant material as great organic matter.

For VERY wide open spaces that is a future home to more plants, actually work some of your own compost material OR Composted Manure by Jolly Gardener or Quoddy Blend by Coast of Maine into the soil. We also sell some terrific compost blends in bulk that we can load into a truck or trailer for you.

The folks at People, Places and Plants magazine (produced right here in Maine) check in this issue with some great gardening tips that deserve special mention. Their web site can be found at

"Plant spring flowering bulbs such as tulips, crocuses and daffodils. Bulbs planted anytime in October, or early November in southern parts of the state, should produce bright blooms next spring. Try some crocuses next to a south-facing foundation for late winter blossoms in March. " Just another reminder that now is a super time to purchase and plant Spring bulbs--one of the first steps to Spring gardening! And Skillin's has the best selection and quality of bulbs anywhere!

"Cut back perennials and compost the foliage. Rake all leaves from the lawn and compost those as well. Leaves left on the lawn through the winter are the leading cause of winter kill." It is vital to thoroughly CLEAN your yard in the fall. Material lying on the ground in and around the garden will become great hiding places and incubators for next year's insects and diseases. Fallen leaves and branches should be picked up and composted.

"Planting of deciduous trees and shrubs should be at its peak. Evergreens are best planted a month earlier." We have some great fall prices on our nursery trees and shrubs and perennials. So much of our plant material has arrived in just the last few weeks—we are not offering old stuff from the Spring.

"Store your harvest properly. Potatoes, beets, carrots, parsnips, turnips, cabbage and celery should be kept in a humid atmosphere at about 35-40 degrees. Squash and pumpkins should be stored in a dry area at 40-60 degrees. Onions and dry beans should be kept at 33 degrees in a dry area." Good storage habits make great tasting natural food. If your garden harvest is depleted many communities still are having active Farmer's Markets; check with your local town hall for info about your town!

The lettuce and broccoli I planted in the ground on Labor Day is just gorgeous right now. I just cut a bunch of lettuce and made a nice fresh salad out of it—yummy! I have some beautiful Swiss Chard growing right now in a container and I think I am going to plant a late fall crop of Swiss Chard and possibly broccoli and lettuce in a container. Got an Earth Box that you used this summer for summer vegetables? Put the Earth Box to work and plant some cold tolerant vegetable seeds in it like the plants I just mentioned (lettuce, broccoli, and also spinach and swiss chard and carrots among others!)

"Your Christmas cactus should rest in a cool, dim room with little water. Bring it back out Nov. 15 for holiday bloom." We will have some young Christmas cactus available in November; these plants can grow to be quite old! (Just like Terry Skillin).

Mike Skillin
Skillin's Greenhouses
October 6, 2008

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